This blog is a personal publication and does not reflect the views or opinions of the US Peace Corps or US Government...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

a Journal Entry from a Year Ago

Here is an entry from my first Peace Corps Journal (I am now on my second). It is from my first week spent with my host family in Ait Gmat on the Dades river. I was getting to know my family and my fellow trainees and had no idea where my site was as of yet. It's a good look back....

03.09.2010 (Day 9)

The wind howled all night last night. I slept very hard though, and awoke without knowing where I was, but my confusion made me smile. I was energized all day and enjoyed myself thoroughly. I felt like we were connecting to the community today, especially on our community walk out into the countryside. Everyone is so very friendly and I spoke to many people.

The countryside is beautiful here, and there are raised paths between fields of wheat and clover. These are bordered by blooming almond and apricot trees and what I swear is aspen. Silvery olive trees are everywhere; in fields and in every courtyard and garden. These fields have been cultivated for more than 1000 years and the crumbling kasbah that we walked through to is testament to the region's violent past. The valleys of the Dades and Draa anre the first actual civilization you hit coming north from the Sahara so the kasbahs defended the local people from Tuareg raids and also served as centers of commerce.

It's all so rich and fascinating and I am devouring every moment; the warm breezes, the rich golden light, and the echoing call to prayer. This country is beautiful and mysterious. I know this euphoria will not last, but taking it one day at a time, I think the two years will fly by in no time at all. Well, now to my host family, to dinner, and tomorrow to Ouarzazate for debriefing.


It's strange, in some ways it feels like my life has started over. I am learning even the most fundamental things in life all over again: how to use the toilet, even how to eat. This evening Hayat was having a great time teaching me to eat lentils with my fingers. I felt like an accomplished toddler when I finally figured it out and was lauded by the family.

I look forward to experiencing my site, wherever the heck it is, for two years. The opportunity to watch a village grow and change throughout the seasons will be a joy indeed.


And it still is... There have been many ups and downs, some of which you have read about here on this blog, but ultimately the euphoria did give way to a gentle acceptance and contentment. I am happy to be here, I am happy to stay, and in a year's time, I will be happy to return home with stories and memories to share with you all.

Thanks for reading,


Friday, March 11, 2011


NOTE: I just dug this up in my freewriting file on my computer. I forgot that I had even written it.The original date is below:


Last year, at almost precisely this time, I found myself standing in line at the tiny Durango-La Plata County Airport waiting for my tickets to print. Behind me, the La Plata Mountains loomed large and icy, framed by the thick glass of the terminal windows; to my left a stuffed bear in a flyfishing getup stood sentinel by the gift shop.

We were pretty quiet, my family and I. Looking back I think we were in shock. Peace Corps had been thrown around our family dinner conversation for almost a year and a half now, but I am not sure if it really hit us until we stood there, next to a flyfishing bear and backed by the familiar mountains that supported our world.

I had decided to join the Peace Corps on a whim in the fall of the previous year. I had just finished an idyllic, albeit short, season at Grand Teton National Park; living in a one room cabin, flyfishing every day at twilight, and always with the rugged, glaciated backdrop of the Teton Range framing my every moment. After such a jaw dropping experience, I found myself back home in a strange doldrums of sorts. I like my home and I love my parents, but it didn’t feel right to be back in the role of live-in son. Sleeping in my room and eating for free weighed heavily on my mind. I was no longer who I was and thus home was no longer the place it had long been to me. In the midst of all of this confusion, I grew more and more frustrated by the lack of job offers from the NPS, despite the slew of applications I had fired off to many parks all across the country; I am not picky. No bites. A large part of this, I knew from unfortunate experience, was from the Preferential Hiring points afforded veterans; most of whom deserve it. Many hiring officials never even make it to my application.

I was reading a book that fall at home, a creatively titled sequel to Muleady-Mecham’s book “Park Ranger” called “Park Ranger: the Sequel”. It was a good book and shared details about the Ranger’s life that had been too dark to be shared in the first book. But it wasn’t the fatal car crashes or high-angle body recoveries that commanded my attention, it was a brief mention of a ranger who got permanent status through “Peace Corps Preference”. I called some of my NPS friends and researched it. Sure enough, service in the US Peace Corps would qualify me for not just eligibility, but noncompetitive eligibility. Translated, it meant I could be hired without even having to apply for a position. It was a loophole, a magic bullet; hell, I figured, I could put up with anything for two years, so long as it led to that. If I went into the Peace Corps, my career was assured. I began my application that night.

A season in Big Bend fell in my lap shortly after my application went through and I handled interviews from SW Texas trying to determine my placement, which had been narrowed down to the entire continent of Africa. Silence for awhile and I began a summer season at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina, deliberately turning down interviews for positions in Yosemite and Wrangell-St. Elias so I could be closer to my extended family in the east. I spent the entire summer driving around Appalachia and the Piedmont visiting family and friends that I hadn’t seen in years. It felt so good to reconnect with my forgotten roots; to chase fireflies and walk around barefoot. I reeked of bug-spray and sweated constantly. That said, the serenity offered by the island and the constant boom of the surf gave me amazing peace. I left in the fall, more connected to the place than I had ever been before. I had people to miss and people to miss me, I can’t wait to see my rediscovered family again.

A few months after that, I found myself in line at the airport, waiting to go to Morocco. I was bound for Africa. Africa. A name I had associated with mystery, danger, wildness for my entire childhood was to be my home for two years—four times longer than I had ever been away from home. Add to that the fact that I was to live in the midst of an Islamic culture, the enemy according to some. A few of my friends thought that I would be killed on sight, simply for being an American. Even my parents, two of the most broad-minded people I know, were concerned for my safety. Even I had my doubts, we are spoon-fed so much hate by our national media, that it worms its way into our collective unconscious. America, a nation that defines freedom for much of the world, was pointing the finger at an entire religion, billions of people, for an atrocity committed by a few fanatics. Our spin doctors told us who to hate and who to fear, within a decade the very sight of a man in a prayer robe and traditional beard sent our psyches into paroxysms of terror.

The moment I stepped off the plane in Casablanca, the first time I met a Moroccan in my training village, and when I was fed, tended-to, and loved by two separate families, I knew I had been lied to.


Over the course of the past year, I have learned what defines a culture, I have seen grace, nobility, and love far surpassing my expectations. I have come to legitimately love the people here; even as I struggle speaking their language they are kind, understanding, and amused. I have had to relearn patience in the face of a system that is barely held together. I have relearned how to speak, how to cook, how to bathe, and even how to go to the bathroom. I never realized that culture begins at birth; arriving in Morocco I had to relearn everything. Even now, after so much work, I feel like a precocious 3rd grader. My only real achievement is staying well for the past 5 months—and sick for the first 7.

I have also learned to live with myself, I can be alone for long periods of time without growing lonely; I read and write almost every day. I sit in the mornings on the cement expanse of my roof, regarding a vista that I know would have tourists talking for many months after. The unknown has slowly become known, and the unusual is now commonplace. I have watched my friends grow and change with me, many of them are leaving next month. They are finished with their service; they have done what they came to do, and now it is my turn to help new volunteers through the ups and downs of their first year; just as the previous volunteers have helped me. In many respects, the two years lived in the Peace Corps, is like living an entire life Birth to Death. The amount of personal evolution is stunning; and difficult to encapsulate. I found it difficult to talk about with people when I was home for Christmas—was that really two months ago? I am not sure if this evolution is making me a better person, or simply more accepting of my faults. Sometimes I think the former, other times the latter.

What is for sure, is that I have made a home in this place that was initially so foreign and unknown. I have grown to love it; to find peace in its chaos, and to see indescribable beauty in each day spent in the high Atlas.

Had I known any of this, I would have smiled to myself as I stood in that airport, to the right of the flyfishing bear, between my silent parents. I would have strode confidently toward the gate, ecstatic with the prospect all that was to come. As it was I hugged both my parents, all of us choking back tears, and taking one final look at the mountains through the windows, and at the bear by the door, I boarded the plane and was gone.

Thanks for reading,


God's Wind

The wind rustles the tall golden grass of the silent graveyard as I pass through it on my way home from lunch with my Moroccan family. It is cold today and a chill mist drifts down from the looming clouds that form a grey and threatening ceiling above my tiny village. Tombstones jut at odd angles from their mounds, poking above the sea of grass as immobile reminders of finality; the long stems sway in the breeze and brush the cold stones. Death surrounded by life. In many ways the entire village is like this right now, with the advent of spring. The willows have begun to bud along with the poplars and the tall walnuts that stand hidden behind the Qaida. Snow remains on the nearly sterile heights, but I know from last year that the thorny ifssi that grows here and there on the mountainsides will soon burst into a riot of bloom and the warming air will be heavy with their scent mixed with the raw, flinty smell of Atlas stone.

In front of the post office, I see three of my friends who tell me with no preamble that a tsunami has hit Japan and hundreds of people have been killed. I have a hard time following the fast berber narrative and when they slow down I hear about swamped fields and houses on fire. It seems unreal, to hear of such pain half a world away spoken of in a 3000 year old dialect in the middle of the Atlas Mountains. I end the conversation quickly and I say I will go home to look it up on the internet.

Passing through a narrow alleyway winding through the ruined remains of the Kasbah, I note how pale the earthen walls look against the leaden sky. Looking upward I see whisper-thin tendrils of snow beginning to descend the flanks of Tissekt Tamda, the folded mountain that I watch the sunset light up in the evenings. As the snow begins to fall, it seems as though the mountains are being erased, lines are blurred and the whole scene seems to take on an ethereal tone. I reach my door and let myself in with a bang of metal.

I turn on my computer and let the modem dial, it takes a few minutes to load CNN. The horror is plastered there on the page for all to see; body counts, videos of sweeping waves and homes ablaze. On one part of the island, firefighters are working to quench an oil refinery that has caught fire, on another a nuclear plant is shut down as radiation leaks out into the surrounding countryside. I close the page down and sit for a minute. Trying to comprehend bad news is always difficult, I try to put myself in the shoes of the victims but never can. It is a level of pain and shock that I can’t even fathom; that I don’t want to fathom. I remember another time, nearly ten years ago, when I sat on the edge of my grandmother’s bed watching the twin towers crumble and collapse in New York. It was September 11th, 2001; I was 14 years old. People were running toward the camera, grey with dust and faces streaked with dark trickles of blood.

My family and I sat there, stunned and no one spoke for a couple of hours. Our circuits were fried in the face of the horror that played out before us like a movie. But it wasn’t a movie.

Last night, I listened to an NPR program called “This American Life”, they were talking about a 1950s talk show that hosted a survivor from the Hiroshima blast and I listened he told his story in halting, emotional, English. The show ended with a tearful handshake with the co-pilot of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the bomb that fateful day, who was also a guest on the show. The pilot had retired and become a sculptor. His most famous work was a marble mushroom cloud with runnels of blood streaking down its sides. He called it ‘God’s Wind at Hiroshima?’. It is a question he asked himself for the rest of his life.

Pain and Disaster. Death and Silence. Some of this we cause, some sweeps ruthlessly down from the universe. A bolt from the blue; an act of God. God’s wind? I can do nothing to help the people in Japan, I can do nothing from here in my village in the Atlas. I simply will sit here, feeling again as though I am on the edge of my grandmother’s bed and numbly watch as disaster unfolds. My thoughts and prayers are with those who are in pain. Peace be with you all.

Thanks for reading,


Friday, March 4, 2011

One Year in Morocco

It seems that yesterday marked one year in this glorious country that I am privileged to call my home. I have seen a full cycle of seasons here, and cannot believe that the time has flown so quickly. Just last March I had arrived here in Morocco and gone to Marrakech for my introduction to training. Today, I would have been busing over the Tizi-n-Tichka pass to Ouarzazate, which was to be my "hub" city for the next two months. I was tired and apprehensive, but overall I felt excited by the unknown adventure that lay ahead of me; a year out, the adventure continues and is made no less wonderful by the passage of time. I think that I will stop here, and let last night's journal entry speak for itself:

"03/03/2011 (-432) Day 365
Today marks a year in Morocco; one year ago today, I arrived at Aeroport Mohammed V and took the bus to Marrakech. I wrote my first journal entry in the football field at the Club CNSS and wondered at the great unknown before me. I have lived in a state of amazement and wonder ever since.
I am sitting at a high table [on the roof] of Cafe Clock, near the Bab Boujaloud of the Fes Medina. The sun is setting on the city and the horizon is broken by crumbling minarets and banded by purple and gold. Swallows dart and dive about in the fading light and the soft sound of drums is carried to me on the same breeze that bears them aloft on their evening rounds. An old man in a striped jelaba is pacing on a nearby rooftop, laundry hangs from a nearby window, and somewhere far off children laugh as they play. Soon the call to prayer begins to echo from countless mosques slightly offset from eachother. The reverent cries form a round, a whole and circular sound. God is great, indeed.
I spent the morning with [my friends] in their Villa on Anfa Hill that overlooks La Corniche of Casablanca. and the endless swell of the Atlantic. [my friend] and I had a quiet breakfast this morning and later [her husband] took me out into the city in his convertible. As we crusied beneath the fading grandeur of the french art deco architecture. [We spoke for a long time, about many things before he took me back to get my bags and meet the train].
The train took me to Fes and I wrote for most of the journey, sleeping for the rest. After a few hours the soporific swaying of the train and the clicking of the wheels forms an irresistible lullaby. One year has ended; another lies before me. What wonders are ahead for me now?
Tomorrow to Midelt, then to Rich, and finally to [...] the little village in the Atlas that is now my home."

Thanks for reading,